Wildlife movies always make me nervous … Disneynature’s Bears

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Disney has long been synonymous with compelling, awe-inspiring, moving “how’d-they-film-that?” nature documentaries. Starting with the True-Life Adventure series (e.g. Seal Island, The Living Desert) in the late 40s/early 50s, Uncle Walt established a high standard for capturing real-life footage of flora and fauna in natural habitats, layering on kid-friendly narratives with heaping helpings of personification and silly puns – all toward offering the world animal-based metaphors for contemporary society, for the daily challenges of survival, and for the absolute need for kindness and empathy and tolerance.

In recent years, the Disneynature imprint (the only Disney studio based in France) was launched to carry on this cinematic tradition. Their latest effort Bears does not disappoint.

In an efficient 90-minute running time, directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey present the tale of Alaskan grizzly bear Sky as she leads her two adorable cubs Amber and Scout from their mountaintop hibernation through a danger-laden summer of scrounging up sustenance and warding off wolves and hunger and other grouchy bears (oh my!).

The Winnie-the-Pooh-esque John C. Reilly is an inspired choice of narrator with his cuddly baritone and affable goofiness. He amiably sells the cornier jokes, but his best moments are as he soothingly/insistently describes the against-all-odds love a parent can (and does) show their young in the face of great adversity.

Yes, you may scratch your head a few times wondering how much of a stretch the film’s narrative may be. I caught myself creating an alternative voice-over for the bears – something like, “Really? Why are these chuckle-heads circling us with these cameras? We are magnificent creatures; not clowns for your entertainment. Wow. Humans are silly creatures.” And lord knows that salmon carnage (understandably) has to be part of any movie about bears in the wild, but all that raw fish-eating defies Magic Kingdom-style whimsy.

Regardless, I am so glad that Disney and other companies make these films. Insidious forces seem to be at work these days, pushing an anti-animal agenda in the guise of all-American family values – it started with Sarah Palin, continues through Duck Dynasty, and will end heaven knows where. A small angry bunch seem to equate the planet’s unyielding diversification as a threat to their middle-class joie de vivre and have turned to camouflage, crossbows, and misinterpreted Bible verses as their saving graces. (I know there are people who will want to pick a fight with me on these points, but it’s my blog so, if you’re one of them, move along. Seriously. Shoo.)

I can only hope that an army of kids whose parents (and grandparents) were influenced positively by Uncle Walt’s anthropomorphizing of woodland creatures makes a beeline for movies like Bears. There is a wild, wonderful world out there that deserves our respect and gratitude … let’s start showing it.


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